Muy caliente! Today has a great food holiday on the horizon–Hot & Spicy Day! Some people are real excited for this day–I know my boyfriend is, hahaha. There are spice-seekers out there that just love the feel of the burning heat on their tongue, the wave of sweat and adrenaline that rushes through you when you take a bite out of something super spicy. I’m…not one of those people? lol! I like my spice well and good–I mean, there are some people I know who think that mild paprika is too much spice in their cuisine–but I don’t like heat for the sake of heat. I’m in no competition with the rest of the world for how spicy I can handle my food. (Hell, I live in a predominantly Indian neighborhood and most of the time I can’t deal with the amount of heat they put in a “mild” order of Chicken Masala!) There are lots of people, however, that love the idea of the hotter, the better, and lots of restaurants that cater to that, providing oases of spice for heat-seekers who keep looking for the next spicy challenge. There’s even a local guy–Adam Richman–who’s making a living eating the spiciest foods he can find all over the country!
Spices–even the ones that make our food “hot”–are used in cuisines all over the world, for thousands of years, in an innumerable amount of combinations. The typical Indian “curry powder” we see in a grocery store or on a dinner menu is actually a combination of spices, which may include coriander, turmeric, cumin, and fenugreek, and varies with each different recipe. Typically, culinary cultures hailing from warmer climates–like India, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean–make spicier foods, because the antimicrobial properties of many spices help fight against food bacteria. It’s a wonder that all of these cultures discovered this property of hot spices independently, ages before we even knew what bacteria even was! This may be another reason why spice seekers love trying the next, newest, hottest dish: there’s always variation and always something new to try. And it gets foodies to sample cuisines they might not have looked at if they were not aiming to feel the burn of the spices running down their throat. So, in essence, these adventurous spice-seekers help give the rest of us better access to a wide variety of worldwide cuisine!
Boy, when the heat gauntlet is thrown down, it is on like Donkey Kong. And you know whatever it is, New York will rise up to the challenge. Enter Brick Lane Curry House, an East Village Indian restaurant that’s reported to have the hottest dish in America on its menu. Can you believe that?? Their phaal, a form of British curry, contains a combination of dried peppers and spices that overpowers any other curry on the menu–maybe even the city. It’s so spicy that the chef, the restaurant boasts, must wear a gas mask while cooking the phaal because all the vaporized spices in the air will damage his eyes and nose. And they want to you eat this thing! As with any good hyperbolic dish in the country, Brick Lane puts down the challenge for anyone who is worthy: eat the entire 16 ounces of meat and sauce (the sauce is really the killer), and you are entitled to a free beer, a certificate of achievement, and your name and photo on their Phaal of Fame. The phaal itself isn’t very flavorful, other than the oppressive heat that attacks your tongue and seems to get worse with every bite. But it’s this heat that keeps bringing thrill-seekers into Brick Lane, looking for the behemoth of a challenge that will satisfy their adrenaline rush. It’s most popularly been featured on Brooklynite Adam Richman’s show “Man Vs. Food,” where he eats his way through all the best food challenges in the country. He took one bite of this phaal and threw in the towel! And this dude’s a professional! So if you’ve got guts of steel (literally), then definitely try the grand poobah of spicy challenges. Win, lose, or puke, it’ll certainly be an experience worthy of Hot & Spicy Day.
Brick Lane Curry House
306-308 E 6th St (between 1st Ave. and Ave. A)
“Bricklane Curry House specializes in delicious Indian food, but it’s their Phaal that’s makes them famous. Billed as “an excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat,” finishing the dish will get you in the (P)hall of Fame complete with a picture on the wall.”–CBS New York
“Phaal, which contains 10 different chilies and emits so much heat that chefs wear a protective mask while making it, first appeared on Brick Lane’s menu in 2002, but an appearance on the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” show in 2008 put it on the map. On the show, host Adam Richman took the “Phaal Challenge,” in which diners brave 16 ounces of the ultraspicy curry in pursuit of a free beer, a certificate of completion and a place in the restaurant’s online Phaal of Fame.”–The Wall Street Journal
“If it’s exotic curries you crave, the adventurous proprietors of the Brick Lane Curry House, on the old Indian row down on East 6th St., will give you a free bottle of beer if you can finish a bowl of their famously punishing phaal curry, which has a foreboding, swampy color and the consistency of sand (I couldn’t).”–New York Magazine
” I wouldn’t go so far as to say the phaal is delicious—it tastes more of heat than anything else, with one person aptly describing it as having a smokey, “cigarette ash” taste. Memorable, sure. But for a more pleasurable dining experience, I would opt for one of the many other curries or vegetable specials on their menu. Or make the phaal pain a communal experience, and tackle it with a few of your friends, so you don’t suffer all by your lonesome. Then all of you can scoff at others when they mention they ate something “super spicy” the other night. Psh.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“About the Phaal – it is one heck of a dish and a serious spicy monster. Although a couple of bites you this really is this even worth a challenge, but in a minute or so you start feeling the spice taking a grip out all your taste buds and mouth as whole. Many of us were trying to device ideas how to avoid the spice, just gulp it down, wrap it in naan and eat it – you can stop it and one has to enjoy the pain. Also its not just mad spicy it has a flavor of its own which you don’t usually find in any indian curry.”–Umesh P.
“If you decide to do this, be prepared to enter a WORLD OF EVERLASTING PAIN. Scarily, I found the phaal’s taste fairly agreeable, and it grew on me even as it literally burnt my lips and ate away at my stomach. After 45 minutes of trembling hands and hallucinations, I made it through 80% of my bowl before throwing in the towel. Even with my heat tolerance, I had to mix in rice and globs of yogurt, and chug two mango lassis. It was a humbling, hard phaal of an experience, but I’d do it again.”–Dave H.
Not really into the hot & spicy food challenges? Want to enjoy the dish you’re eating? Don’t feel like going to the emergency room for the amount of heat you just ingested? Then maybe Brick Lane Curry House isn’t your thing 😉 Personally, I like the biting spicy rub of jerk chicken, a staple in Caribbean cuisine. Made with a special blend of ground peppers and spices, jerk chicken is slathered in the stuff, and then smoked and grilled in a steel pan or, to get traditional, a cleaned-out, cut-in-half oil drum. The resulting meat is super tender, soft, and thickly spicy! The best place to get authentic jerk chicken in New York City is Flatbush, Brooklyn, home to a great number of Caribbean restaurants who don’t skimp on the spices or the flavor. One of the best of these jerk joints is Exquisite Delight, which, for being a small, family-owned restaurant with barely twenty reviews on Yelp, caught the taste buds of the Wall Street Journal to be named the best jerk chicken in New York. It’s fall-off-the-bone tender, with the base of Scotch bonnet pepper and allspice rub; you can even add more spice to your chicken with an array of hot sauces with differing levels of heat. What makes jerk chicken easier to swallow than Indian phaal is the sides: mild, creamy, starchy sides like red beans and rice, fried plantains, and white bread help soak up the spicy rub, whereas the naan and basmati rice given to phaal challengers only spreads the gravy around, forcing you to eat more volume of super-spicy sauce. I’m not crazy heat-tolerant, and even I love the spicy bite of a piece of jerk chicken when it’s cooked to perfection–so long as it’s followed up by a heaping spoonful of sides to wash it down!
2847 Church Ave (between Lloyd St & Nostrand Ave), Flatbush
“Most people know about jerk chicken, but most probably don’t know where to get good jerk chicken. For the good stuff you’ll have to travel to Flatbush to a place call Exquisite Delight. Each piece of chicken, grilled to perfection, is incredibly flavorful from the spices including the incendiary Scotch bonnet pepper. For extra heat you can apply as little or as much hot sauce as you like from the squirt bottles sitting on top of the ordering counter.”–The Wall Street Journal
“The next joint, Exquisite Delight, on Church Avenue between Nostrand and Rogers avenues, had — hands down — the best chicken. It literally fell off the bone when I picked it up, and the spices were perfect. The platter came with the standard rice and beans, but was augmented by delicious fried plantain slices. Owner Claude Green said the secret is in marinating the meat for two to three days — and grilling the bird instead of merely baking it.”–The Brooklyn Paper
“At Exquisite Delight, there’s a special drill: you place your order and moments later, they put your order on the counter. On the counter reside bottles of a variety of sauces that you squirt onto your chicken. Finally, they put a lid over the chicken and slide it into a paper bag for you. The routine complete, we grabbed a couple of seats at the counter by the window and dug in. The chicken was outrageous! Juicy, flavorful and spicy. It came with four slices of white bread — in case we got the urge to turn our chicken feast into a sandwich party. But let me be clear: this jerk chicken is something you eat with your hands because the spices and the meat are so good that you want to get every last piece of off the bones.”–Nona Brooklyn
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Super late on this review, as I’ve been coming here for jerk chicken since like 2005. The best jerk chicken I’ve had in a restaurant, hands down and I’ve definitely tried many other restaurants’ jerk chicken in NYC and abroad. First time I tried it I wasn’t living in the area but happened to be around and was drawn in by the sight of jerk chicken grilling in the window. Moved in the area not long after and saw how popular it is in Flatbush amongst the MANY other places that sell food around here. That was back in 06 and not much has changed in terms of the popularity. That should tell you something about how good it is!”–Tricia B.
“The words “jerk chicken for president!’ were uttered by one of our friends as we ate and ate and ate of these tasty wonderful nicely charred grilled jerk chicken. I don’t know if am reviewing just the chicken or the whole joint, but this is their main staple. People line u… no, not line up… people crowd the whole waiting area, as this is a take out place only. Surprisingly enough, no fights ensue while you wait a half hour or so to relay your desire, through drooling lips, to be subjected to the agony of the best flavors you might taste for a very good time… until you come back that is! The chicken pieces while looking black from the grill carry an impressive amount of spices. They are hot, as in spicy hot. The meat is just juicy and tender with flavor through out. Yummm!!! I’m getting some today!!! Cant wait!”–Orlando E.
So far for Hot & Spicy Day, we’ve had Indian in Manhattan, and Caribbean in Brooklyn…where else to go? How about Queens–Flushing to be exact–for some spicy and tasty Szechuan Chinese food? And when I mean spicy and tasty, I mean Spicy & Tasty–one of the most popular Szechuan restaurants in all of Queens. Most of the restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown, as much as I love them, have dumbed down any Szechuan heat in favor of easily accessible Cantonese dishes to appease the tourist population, but not so at Spicy & Tasty. They don’t skimp on the hot red chili oil when blending their flavors itno the pork, chicken, vegetables, and noodles–oh, you can’t forget the noodles! Whether ordered hot or cold, these noodles will always be “hot”: a mix of chili peppers, Szechuan peppercorns, chopped garlic, and scallions infuses every dish with authentic Szechuan flavor. So it doesn’t really matter what you order here, from the beef tendon to dried beef curd to the popular Dan Dan Noodle; it’ll all be covered in that fire-engine red chili sauce that’s like a blaring siren, warning (or encouraging) you to the spiciness of this restaurant. Downing a whole order of shredded pork won’t get you a free bottle of beer or your picture on the wall, but you will get a fully spicy meal that you can enjoy the flavor of as well as the heat.
Spicy & Tasty
39-07 Prince St, Flushing
“Spicy & Tasty takes you to places that less bold Sichuan restaurants don’t, and by that I’m not referring to its location in a cluster of Asian restaurants in Flushing, Queens, that too few diners from other neighborhoods visit. I’m referring to the numbing sensation of the Sichuan peppercorns more prevalent in its food than in the food at supposedly like-minded establishments that hold their fire, deferring to many Westerners’ palates. I’m referring to the lustrous sheen of the red chili oil or sesame oil that liberally coats the surfaces of many dishes or pools at the bottoms of them, setting off alarm bells in delicate diners. And, yes, to the tendon, tripe and kidney in some dishes on the epic menu.”–The New York Times
“Try the house favorites – hot Dan Dan noodles or cold Szechuan noodles. Most regulars order a couple of appetizers and entrees for the table. For the more adventurous diner, ask for the chef’s off-menu special and brace yourself for a spicy kick.”–The Daily News
“A good place to start is with cold dishes like the “jelly Chengdu style,” gelatinous but slightly snappy noodles infused with pungent, fiery heat derived from red chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced garlic, scallions, soy sauce, and vinegar. Familiar classics like twice-cooked pork, “homestyle” bean curd, “dry-cooked” string beans, eggplant with green pepper, pork-stuffed wontons, dumplings, and dan-dan noodles are all exemplary, but that’s barely scratching the surface.”–New York Magazine
“As far as I know, dry-frying is a technique unique to Sichuan cuisine. Strips of beef are essentially deep fried in low-temperature oil until dehydrated and chewy, then stir-fried with fermented soy bean, celery, chili peppers, and Sichuan peppercorns. The frying technique renders the beef porous so that it can easily absorb the flavors of the sauce and the peppers. It’s as intensely flavorful as beef jerky, but with a extraordinarily fiery heat that brings new meaning to the phrase “Pleasure to Burn.” It’s sado-masochistic capsicum-powered self-flagellation, and everything that I love about Sichuan food. A glimmer of hope for New York!”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Despite the abundance of chili oil, chili peppers, and peppercorns, the food wasn’t as spicy as I’d hoped it would be but it sure was tasty. This was probably a good thing since there were a few in the group that couldn’t handle spiciness, but I’ll have to remember to ask for extra spicy next time I go to S&T. I appreciate how accommodating the restaurant staff was for our large group, and I can’t wait to return with another large group in tow!”–Amy S.
“Although I’m Chinese, I’m just about useless since I’m illiterate and I don’t know Sichuan cuisine well. So I’ve gotten away with the pointing method, asking for some of the favorite dishes I know I like, and randomly ordering something, lottery pick. In general, the food is very tasty, prepared well, and packs decent heat (but suspect they tone it down). Tends to be oily. One plainly named “Lamb in spicy sauce” turned out to be a breathtakingly beautiful dish we saw heading to another table, ordered, and was a real highlight. This is a very solid place for Sichuan cuisine, always recommended.”–Valery C.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!